Always End with Poopy-Head
April 8, 2010 9:29 PM   Subscribe

On August 8, 1997, the audience of Late Night with Conan O'Brien was made up entirely of eight-year-old children. The episode in five parts: one, two, three, four and five. Andy Richter remembers on This American Life (starting at 50 minutes).

O'Brien's monologue began with the following joke:
Who read the newspaper today? You all read the news. (No) Then you're going to love this, did you hear this? A bank reposessed OJ Simpson's car to help pay off his debts. That really happened. (Why?) Why? I'll tell you why. Today he was spotted hitchhiking really slowly with Al Cowlings.
That joke, as well as much of the episode, provides evidence that the children were responding to the Applause sign with little sense of the meaning of the humor or the conventions of the talk show.

The show's guests that night were comedian Dave Foley (talking about a trip to Africa), animal expert Clyde Peeling, and business journalist Myron Kandel. Throughout most of the episode's traditional talk show content, it becomes apparent that the audience of children is increasingly bored. Among other tasks, the children were responsible throughout the episode for fighting the Boredom Monster, a Godzilla-like figure shown live on tape, by screaming and applauding at boring guests. As Richter recalls, the children eventually caught on and chanted "Boring, Boring!" in an attempt to bring the monster on stage.
Richter: It's humiliating. As much rationalization as you can do and say "they're just children and they don't know who I am," you've got 700 human beings on stage screaming at you "Boring!" when you're a performer and it's your job to be interesting.
In particular, watch the episode for "Naughty Land" (a holding cell for misbehaving children) and the taped segment in which O'Brien gives the kids a tour of the studio.
posted by l33tpolicywonk (30 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Eight-year-olds, Dude.
posted by Scattercat at 9:51 PM on April 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

I teach a class of Korean 5-6 year olds and it's BRUTAL. They rip up my worksheets, destroy my craft ideas and just keep shouting SPONGEE BAHB SPONGEE BAHB. As much as I know that they're just kids, I always go home in a bad mood after that class. Unless I show them Spongebob, in which case I feel a little bit like a failure, but only my work ethic has suffered.
posted by GilloD at 10:06 PM on April 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also, they called me fat and so I started taking long bike rides after work. Why am I taking advice from small children again? Richter is right, man.
posted by GilloD at 10:06 PM on April 8, 2010 [11 favorites]

I love the odd mix of irreverence and blind obedience little kids embody. I can't count the number of times in my life I've been walking somewhere and overheard a kid say something really obvious and really rude about another passerby. Three things I remember:

- Showed up at the age of 5 or 6 tagging along at a PepsiCo banquet, was asked what I wanted to drink, asked for a Coke.

- Standing in the grocery store with my mom and seeing a woman walk away from a pay phone without hanging up. I remember rushing over to hang up the phone, figuring something was being wasted. It only dawned on me years later that she was likely in the middle of a long-distance call and was actually saving the other caller money versus paying another connection charge a few minutes later.

- Climbing onto a platform and running into some sort of re-built Egyptian structure, probably at the Met, only to be yanked back by the long arm of one of my parents who wasn't eager to make the news for their kid being the culprit behind the chocolate fingerprints all over the burial inscription of Pharoah TuttiFrutti.

posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:18 PM on April 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Inspector.Gadget, don't you mean King Rootin' Tootin' ??
posted by ReeMonster at 10:27 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, you have to give Conan and Richter credit for trying a unique concept, at least. But wow, it's really fascinating to watch how it derailed. (Predictable from pretty much the first joke, too.)

As Richter said, it was a trainwreck.
posted by zarq at 10:28 PM on April 8, 2010

Conan and Andy don't look much older than 8 in that footage; Max looks 10.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 10:59 PM on April 8, 2010

Fortunately, six months later, the masturbating bear was found not guilty of indecent exposure.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:02 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

In my imagination all of GilloD's 5-6 year-olds know taekwondo and will kick his ass if he doesn't put SpongeBob on.
posted by Harald74 at 11:32 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I strongly endorse this concept for such feedback-driven shows as American Idol and Glenn Beck.
posted by mwhybark at 11:41 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hey, I just watched this yesterday! Weird!
posted by Sys Rq at 11:41 PM on April 8, 2010

GilloD, I've been there, but in Japan, and it's hell. Run away. Teaching kids is murder. Try to get into teaching adults, it's much less painful.

My recurring nightmare was a class with twin 10 year old boys, Genki and Yuki. They'd been coming to the school since before I started, roughly over a year total. Once a week, 45 minutes. I tried, and tried, but they refused to even learn the abc's. That was 10 years ago, and I still remember their vacant stares. They never even learned enough English to play even the most basic of games. Kids are evil. Run away.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:45 PM on April 8, 2010

Although everyone seems to think it was a disaster, surely it was planned. I mean, "Myron Kandel, Financial Analyst at CNN"? Naughtyland? They were trying to incite a riot.
posted by alexei at 12:41 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

>Kids are evil. Run away
No, kids are awesome.
(but probably the most high-maintenance* people/audience you're ever liable to run into)

I taught 2nd, 4th and 5th graders in rural Nepal and man, you are working for that daily dal bhat! You have to be like James Brown in that class room—every single minute!

Each of the grades was different, but so much of it was just keeping them engaged so the learning could happen. Like varying degrees of the "Here comes the airplane!" that parents do to get the vegetables in.

With the 2nd graders it was making them laugh, drawing pictures on the black part of the wall, teaching the word, having the kids make a kooky noise to go with picture. The little class room was crammed wall-to-wall with little kids in their bright white outfits; I was left with a few square feet at the front and the overwhelming feeling that if I messed up and lost them, they were liable to crash upon me like a wave, no doubt giggling all the way.

The fourth and fifth graders were challenging too in their own way, but man, those 2nd graders were a wonderful mix of openness-to-kookiness paired with that knowledge that "you just can't reason with (anywhere from three- to) six-year-olds—you gotta meet them on their own terms!"

Would I would go back and teach those classes? In a second!

*"high-maintenance" meant in the best possible way; simply because of the nature of kids—their expanding brains so full of questions and being bombarded by bright colorful input.
posted by blueberry at 1:08 AM on April 9, 2010 [11 favorites]

Wow. Who thought this was a good idea?
posted by The Devil Tesla at 1:17 AM on April 9, 2010

That's some good television, right there.
posted by Optamystic at 3:28 AM on April 9, 2010

"Wow! Sick exotic bird parade ??!" One of my favorite Conan moments, thanks for this!
posted by pickingoutathermos at 3:29 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

those kids didn't applaud because they had to, they did it because they thought it was fun to play with the sign. the applause sign entertained them more than conan did. and they also caught the snoopy joke right away. they were tougher to please and tougher to fool and didn't play nice. they didn't just accept sucking kindly. that's a commentary about growing up, not the format of talk shows.
posted by krautland at 3:54 AM on April 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Too bad Conan didn't bring any of the brilliant, innovative, unexpected twists that made Late Night with Conan O'Brien the funniest and most revolutionary program on American TV to the Tonight Show. Why, Conan, why? Why did you fail to bring anything new to the Tonight Show? Why did it seem like a milder, duller, badly paced version of Late Night splayed out across a gigantic stage, with no eye contact possible between yourself and Max, with Andy given the unnecessary, nonsensical job of "announcer" when he does not have an announcer's voice, but is, in fact, nature's most perfect and naturally born sidekick -- created specifically to sit on the couch next to the host for the whole show and help him be funny. When I hear those children shouting "boring, boring" I think of Conan's Tonight Show, and how after the first twenty minutes or so, I had to force myself to watch -- simply because I knew, knew, knew what was coming up, and it wasn't going to be at all funny or unpredictable, or make me feel that I was part of some great conspiracy of joyful, absurd, risky humor, led by a giant orange man who was decent, creative, and brave, whose self-absorption I could share, laugh at and enjoy because he made me laugh in expected ways, as was the case when I stayed up to watch (or recorded) Late Night with Conan O'Brien every night for 15 years. What a lost opportunity! And they blame Leno! It was Conan and his team. As their Tonight Show ground on, and Andy desperately tried to be funny off in the whatever siberia of the studio he stood behind the podium, and Conan pushed ahead, seemingly unaware that the show was a disaster, making no attempts to correct its course or alter its formula in its early days, while he still had the chance, and they relied more and more on gigantic stunts like shooting the (very funny and accidentally discovered, in the Late Night way) dummies of Tom Cruise and the Fonze out of cannons, which were only occasionally amusing and were more often exhausting, and the gods themselves spoke by giving Conan a concussion (whattawe gotta do, hit this guy over the head?), the hollow, philandering, creaky-jawed dummy Letterman ate their lunch, and the whole tired, attenuated business collapsed in exhaustion. Conan had his chance and he blew it, taking the whole Tonight Show franchise with him. I do have high hopes for Conan's travelling stage show, though, based on the excellent touring he did during the Late Night years. But if he ever hopes to do another great television show, he needs to acknowledge to himself that the failure of Tonight was his fault. Not NBCs. Not Leno's. He is not a victim (as he graciously acknowledged in some way on his last Tonight show), but he must rebuild his television self from the ground up. The next show needs to be entirely new.
posted by Faze at 4:26 AM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

GilloD, I've been there, but in Japan, and it's hell. Run away. Teaching kids is murder. Try to get into teaching adults, it's much less painful.

In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary "Battle Royale" act.
posted by ersatz at 4:55 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kids are evil. Run away.

Agreed. I tought them in a similar situation approximately five years ago, when thanks to some comedy bit on TV, all the children thought it was hilarious to introduce us English teachers to the "koncho". This meant the little bastards would put their hands together, fold all their fingers down except their index fingers, and sneak up behind you to poke their fingers right up your ass.

I sincerely hope this hi-larious practical joke has gone out of fashion, but I taught most of my lessons that year with my back against the wall.
posted by Kirk Grim at 5:47 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Kirk Grim at 6:23 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ah, but does anyone remember the night, long before this, that the Letterman show was dubbed entirely in Spanish? Dave and Paul had the most ridiculous soap-opera star deep voices, and it was bizarrely awesome.

faze: The answer to your question is that great things can happen when no one's paying attention. But when everyone's worried about legacies and paydays (from host to writers to execs), every move is scrutinized and debated. And overcooked comedy is bad comedy. Here's hoping that Conan realizes that 30 mil is enough to get his kids through Harvard, and he uses his Fox (or wherever) show to slowly implode his career by trying ever weirder and riskier stuff.
posted by turducken at 8:36 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

starting at 50 minutes

More like 50 minutes exactly you get a jarring, warbling song.
posted by moviehawk at 8:41 AM on April 9, 2010

Thanks for the post, l33tpolicywonk! I've been trying to track down this show on the internet for years, to no avail. Now if someone could only dig up the episode that was done entirely in claymation, my life will be complete.

And, Faze: I am in total agreement with you about the more boring place O'Brien and his people took the show when they moved to 11:30. I could actually see it coming during the last year-or-so of his stint at Late Night. For me, the last run of great shows Conan did was during the writer's strike a couple years back. With no script to follow, the shows had the old feel of barely-contained chaos that so won me over in those early, formative years of the show.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:08 AM on April 9, 2010

Imagine, if you will, Jay Leno doing his show for an audience like this.

Then tell me, please, because I can't imagine anything that outlandish.
posted by tommasz at 9:10 AM on April 9, 2010

Now if someone could only dig up the episode that was done entirely in claymation, my life will be complete.

David Bowie segment from Conan's ClayMation Show. The entire show is not online. :(
posted by zarq at 10:29 AM on April 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Imagine, if you will, Jay Leno doing his show for an audience like this.

Then tell me, please, because I can't imagine anything that outlandish.

Tosh. Jay's just as avant garde -- his whole audience consists of old people.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:15 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you want more dada in your late night watch Craig Ferguson. He's doing wonderfully odd counter-format segments almost every other day.
posted by Omon Ra at 6:57 PM on April 9, 2010

this is pure genius, as awkward as it is.
posted by empath at 9:28 PM on April 9, 2010

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